The album earned Monáe a Grammy nomination for the song “Many Moons.” She would go on to collect five more nominations across two more albums, both of which starred her alter-ego, Mayweather. For years, Monáe remained safely cocooned within the character. “Cindi helps me talk more,” she said; through Mayweather, she could address things she didn’t feel comfortable talking about directly. “You can parallel the other in the android to being a black woman right now, to being a part of the L.G.B.T.Q. community,” she said. “What it feels like to be called a nigger by your oppressor.” Mayweather was a proxy for all the things about Monaé that made others uncomfortable, like her androgyny, her opaque sexual identity, her gender fluidity — her defiance of easy categorization.
But then Monáe shifted her attention to acting. She made her film debut as the de facto surrogate mother of a young black boy in “Moonlight,” which won the Oscar for Best Picture last year; she starred, with Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henson, in the blockbuster “Hidden Figures,” about early black female mathematicians. Fans wondered if she would commit to films, where she could attain a level of fame that can be elusive in music. But part of the reason she was slow to return, she told me, is that her mentor, Prince, died unexpectedly. They were working together closely on what would become “Dirty Computer.” “This was the person that I would literally call and talk to about sounds or: ‘How should I say this? Is this saying too much?’ I just never could imagine a time where I couldn’t pick up the phone or email him, and he’d contact me right back and we’d talk about all these things that I was unsure of.”
The music Monáe introduced on that dusty afternoon in Los Angeles marked her highly anticipated return. “Dirty Computer,” a celebratory ode to femininity and queer people, seems to signal a new era in her career: If in the past she seemed distant, using Mayweather to stand in for the real Monáe, she now seems ready to present herself to the public. “Right now I’m escaping the gravity of the labels that people have tried to place on me that have stopped my evolution,” she told me. “You have to go ahead and soar, and not be afraid to jump — and I’m jumping right now.”
Two months later, in February, I was in the back of an Uber, riding southwest toward a subdivision of Atlanta. After a pause at a security gate, the car drove through an upscale, predominantly black community, past typical suburban scenes — teenagers shooting hoops, people taking out their garbage, men working on their cars. I was heading to Wondaland Arts Society, Monáe’s creative headquarters. Its inspiration is Paisley Park, the elaborate compound outside Minneapolis that housed Prince’s rehearsal space, recording rooms, concert venue and countless parties. Several years ago, Monáe established the Wondaland label — one of the few black women to have a label of her own — and signed several acts, including the band St. Beauty (one member, Isis Valentino, was a backup singer for Monáe) and the singer and rapper Jidenna. The Wondaland artists often practice together and appear on one another’s albums. And the compound, where the artists often crash, has become a center of black culture in Atlanta. Much of “Black Panther” was shot in and around the city, and the cast held impromptu gatherings at Wondaland. At one, Chadwick Boseman whaled on the drums and Lupita N’yongo was hailed as the best dancer. They were among the first to hear “Dirty Computer,” and their approval gave Monáe’s confidence a boost. “I felt understood,” she told me. “I felt like, Man, these are people I admire and I respect, and they love this album. I have to finish it.”
Outside Wondaland, eight cars lined the long driveway, and staccato bursts floated from an open window upstairs. It sounded like band practice, a score being workshopped. I recognized the music from “Dirty Computer.” A Wondaland staff member named Kelly greeted me at the door and gave me a quick tour. From the outside, the house looked like any other Southern McMansion, but the entryway immediately suggested something different. Thick, leafy palm trees crowded the foyer so densely that I had to wrestle them to get through. A handwritten note asked guests to slip off their shoes. An archway was decorated with a dozen or so clocks, in different shapes and colors, their hands frozen at various times.
Before I went down to the sprawling lower level where Monáe and I would talk, I poked my head into a few of the rooms on the first floor, all filled with recording equipment and more luscious tropical plants. People seemed to be having casual meetings in many of them. There was a large wraparound kitchen, where a woman was chopping army quantities of vegetables. On the dining-room table, there was a chocolate cake surrounded by red and blue balloons, a bottle of sparkling rosé and a laserjet printout that read in block caps: “CONGRATULATIONS, YOU DIRTY COMPUTER.”
AdvertisementContinue reading the main story
The stairs to the basement were covered with green turf, so that even as my eyes adjusted to the dimming light, my feet were receiving the pleasantly disorienting sensation of outdoors. Downstairs, there were tropical plants everywhere; brilliant orange-and-white fish swam in an expansive tank bathed in purple lights. I counted at least five keyboards, eight guitars, two drum kits, a piano, a cello, a trumpet and a saxophone. A stack of books piled on an end table included “Writing Better Lyrics,” “Sapiens,” “Zen Guitar” and “Built to Last,” a book on business management. There was a desk crowded with sound mixers and synthesizers, and a box set of Jimi Hendrix CDs. A minifridge was stocked with seltzer, wine and water, and a bottle of absinthe stood on the desk.
Monáe soundlessly padded into the room, clad in a velour caftan, gold earrings and rings to match. She was barefoot, her toes painted metallic silver. She had arrived from Los Angeles that morning, and tried to take a nap, but Jidenna, who was in town, woke her up with his practicing. Though she apologized for being tired, she was buoyant. It had been 24 hours since her first two singles — “Django Jane” and “Make Me Feel” — were released, and both were trending on social media. “I’m still nervous, obviously, but I’ll enjoy this moment,” she told me, as she arranged herself more comfortably on a chair next to the couch where I was sitting. “But I won’t drive myself nuts trying to preplan what people are going to say, what they’re going to think, even though it terrifies me — I just have to put my energy into finishing.”
Monáe, who is 32, told me that she has been circling the themes explored on “Dirty Computer” for at least a decade, but that earlier it felt safer to package herself in metaphors. “I knew I needed to make this album, and I put it off and put it off because the subject is Janelle Monáe.” She’s still having a conversation with herself, she said, about who she wants to be when she’s in the spotlight. The sanitized android version felt more accepted — and more acceptable — than her true self. The public, she explained, doesn’t really “know Janelle Monáe, and I felt like I didn’t really have to be her because they were fine with Cindi.” When Prince died in April 2016, she started to rethink how she would present herself. “I couldn’t fake being vulnerable. In terms of how I will be remembered, I have anxiety around that, like the whole concept about what I’ll be remembered for.”
At its core, “Dirty Computer” is a homage to women and the spectrum of sexual identities. The songs can be grouped into three loose categories: Reckoning, Celebration and Reclamation. “The first songs deal with realizing that this is how society sees me,” she said. “This is how I’m viewed. I’m a ‘dirty computer,’ it’s clear. I’m going to be pushed to the margins, outside margins, of the world.” “D’Jango Jane” is an ode to black power and pride that is also a dirge about the struggles that come with that heritage. The middle half of the album is a raucous party. “It’s like, O.K., these are the cards I’ve been dealt,” she said. These songs include “Make Me Feel” and “Pynk” — the sizzling, sex-drenched songs that titillated the internet when they were released earlier this year. The album winds down with an anthem about being an American, whose sound evokes Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” with lyrics like “love me for who I am,” and “cross my heart and hope to die, I’m a big old piece of American pie.”
Monáe will release an extended musical film with the album that illustrates and complements “Dirty Computer.” The 50-minute “emotion picture,” as she calls it, follows a young woman, played by Monáe, on the run from an authoritarian government that hunts down so-called deviants and “cleans” them by erasing their memories. Those memories serve as the musical interludes (the videos) amid the drama — “Handmaid’s Tale” meets “San Junipero,” set in a desiccated “Mad Max” landscape. It follows a crew of young kids, mostly black, dancing and dodging capture. Longtime fans will recognize the parallels to Mayweather — which Monáe expects — but instead of focusing on a fictional male human lover, the object of her affection is the actress Tessa Thompson, with whom Monáe is frequently photographed in real life. A beautiful man whom she occasionally hugs and kisses makes appearances, but he feels like an afterthought. Plausible deniability. The star-crossed romance between Thompson and Monáe, and whether they will be separated or reunited, is the true narrative of the film.
Most popular music is so determinedly centered on heterosexual dynamics that any hint of same-sex interactions can feel revelatory, even radical, upon the first encounter. That’s the way it felt to me when I first watched Monáe’s film. The queer sexual interactions are refreshingly explicit — miming digital and oral sex — and images throughout celebrate women. The video for the song “Pynk” is an extended appreciation of the female anatomy, with neon signs screaming, “[Expletive] Power,” and pink-frilled jumpsuits that wouldn’t look out of place in a Judy Chicago installation.
Already much of social media has speculated on the nature of Monáe and Thompson’s relationship, and this film — especially with scenes like Thompson poking her head from between the legs of Monáe’s pink vagina pantsuit — is certain to only inflame those rumors. The first time I saw the video for “Make Me Feel,” months before its YouTube release, I found it so sexually suggestive (Thompson appears throughout the song, fawning over Monáe, dancing with her, almost kissing her) that I immediately texted the woman I was dating at the time, “omg janelle might really be gay.” It felt as declarative as a coming-out could. And yet in person, Monáe would say only that she felt this was her coming-out as an advocate of women and queer issues. “I want it to be very clear that I’m an advocate for women,” she said. “I’m a girl’s girl, meaning I support women no matter what they choose to do. I’m proud when everybody is taking agency over their image and their bodies.” She told me that she wanted the album to be especially relevant to black women and queer women, for them to feel seen and heard in this album. “I felt that way when I listened to Lauryn Hill, as I was trying to find myself as a young woman, I felt that way when I listened to Stevie Wonder when I was trying to understand God more.”
I asked Monáe what she thought of the internet’s speculation about her romantic relationship with Thompson. Watching her as she decided on a response was like watching a mathematician working out Fermat’s Last Theorem. Gears were churning; calculations were being made. Finally, she laughed, raised her eyebrows and deflected: “I hope people feel celebrated,” she said. “I hope they feel love. I hope they feel seen.” It was late into the evening, and I was conscious of how long we’d been talking — at least two hours — and let it drop. But the issue lingered for me, especially the more times I watched her film.
AdvertisementContinue reading the main story
These days, the culture seems more accepting and welcoming of queerness: Young actors and pop stars like Amandla Stenberg and Lady Gaga are identifying publicly as bisexual. Lena Waithe and her fiancée were recently photographed by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair. And yet, nonheteronormative sexuality remains the last taboo. Monáe is media-savvy enough to protect herself from becoming tabloid fodder for publications that want to turn her personal life into spectacle or reduce her art to her sexuality. She told me repeatedly that she worried what her early fans and very religious and very Southern family would think. There’s little precedent for a black female celebrity at her level living openly as a lesbian in a gay relationship.
Monáe has spent a lifetime perfecting the art of being a pop star who isn’t a sexual object. Discretion is a survival strategy, a coping mechanism especially useful for black women living in the public eye. But she has now made an explicit album about sexual expression and identity that is somehow still shrouded in ambiguity. In 2018, empowerment isn’t a color — it’s a call to action. It’s Cardi B talking about how much she loves her vagina, not holding a neon sign explaining that she has one. On “Dirty Computer,” it still feels as if Monáe is deciding which version of herself to show the world — or that this is the tentative beginning of a larger reveal.
Newsletter Sign UpContinue reading the main story
Sign Up for the Magazine Newsletter
Get the best of the Magazine delivered to your inbox every week, including exclusive feature stories, photography, columns and more.
Thank you for subscribing.
An error has occurred. Please try again later.
You are already subscribed to this email.
Monáe grew up in a large yet tightknit family in Kansas City, Kan., the kind with relatives in the double digits. Money was scarce, but they made do. Her parents worked in the service industry, her mother as a janitor and her stepfather as a postal worker. Her mother was a Baptist but didn’t mind when Monaé listened to racy R. & B. songs by groups like Jodeci or rappers like Tupac. Her great-grandmothers played organ in church and taught piano. Her biological father sang. She thinks he could have gotten a record deal if he hadn’t battled an addiction to crack. Her mother left him when Monáe was a toddler and remarried. He was in and out of prison Monáe’s entire childhood. “He’s sober now,” she told me, and the author of a memoir in which he writes about Monáe: “She always had this distinctive look in her eye that said: ‘I’m going to make it! No matter what!’ And I believed that she would.”
As a teenager, Monáe was enrolled in a young playwrights’ program and performed in talent showcases on the weekend, where she sang Lauryn Hill songs a cappella and usually won. She watched movies like “The Wiz” but struggled with the same question that all black children weaned on American pop culture eventually reckon with: Is this all there is?
After high school, she moved to New York to study musical theater at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. She couldn’t afford to live on campus, so she shared a room at 140th and Amsterdam with an older cousin, who worked nights at the Post Office. They each took a shift sleeping while the other was at work or school and saw each other on the weekends. Her congregation supplied some funds, and Monáe did some work as a maid to make ends meet. She spent the rest of her time in libraries, reading plays and practicing monologues. Her best friend was studying in Atlanta and regaled her with tales of wild parties and the camaraderie of black Greek life. “It was just more exciting than what I was doing,” she said. She liked the rigor and discipline of her school but worried she would lose her edge: “I didn’t want to sound, or look or feel like anybody else.” She made the decision to leave New York after a year and a half.
Monáe eventually settled in a boardinghouse that was directly across from the university center that contains all four of Atlanta’s historically black colleges: Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, Morehouse College and the Morehouse School of Medicine. She went to Georgia State University’s Perimeter College to save money and began to write her own music. Atlanta in the early 2000s was a hotbed for musical innovation, with artists like OutKast spinning their eccentricities and distinct Southern identity into record deals and national fame. Monáe began experimenting with her own sound, performing around campus — in dorm rooms, at school events and, once, on the steps of the library. She made a CD called “The Audition” and sold it out of the trunk of her Mitsubishi Galant. She worked at Office Depot and during slow moments updated her Myspace page with new photos and music.
During this period, she met Mikael Moore, her longtime manager, and his classmates Chuck Lightning and Nate Wonder, who would eventually became close collaborators and form the backbone of all her creative efforts — writing songs with Monáe and directing her videos, which they continue to do. At an open-mic night, she met Antwan Patton, otherwise known as Big Boi, from OutKast. He invited her to contribute to “Got Purp? Vol. II,” a 2005 compilation album that featured artists of Dirty South rap like Goodie Mob and Bubba Sparxxx but few other women. She also appeared on the soundtrack for “Idlewild,” the 2006 musical film starring Patton and André Benjamin, or André 3000, Patton’s partner in OutKast.
Sean Combs, the producer also known as Puffy at the time, reached out to her after her work with Big Boi put her on his radar. Monáe had already taken a few meetings with record executives, and was disillusioned by those early encounters. They criticized her style, which then involved, sartorially, androgynous suits, and musically, operatic odes to her character Cindi Mayweather. During one performance, she noticed midsong, breathless and sweating from the effort of dancing and singing, an executive casually reading a magazine. “I cried,” she said. “I mean, I cried.” She made Puffy a deal: She had just finished “Metropolis.” She’d hear him out if he came to see her perform. “It was important to know if he was serious, that he was going to appreciate me and not try to change my live show or my music.” Combs halted filming on his reality show, “Making the Band” and flew down. He loved what he saw. “He said, let’s meet tomorrow and let’s talk,” Monáe recalled.
AdvertisementContinue reading the main story
Combs told Monáe that he wanted to introduce her to a larger audience. “I knew I had to work with her,” he told me via email. “It was immediate. I just knew she was going to be important to music and culture. It was the same sort of feeling I had when I first heard Biggie or Mary J. Blige, and I wanted to help introduce this artist to the world.”
In 2008, Combs announced the signing of Monáe to his label, Bad Boy Records. They rereleased “Metropolis” and then followed up with “The ArchAndroid” in 2010 and “The Electric Lady” in 2013 (as well as “Dirty Computer”). Monáe went on tour with No Doubt and Bruno Mars and collaborated with Solange Knowles and Erykah Badu. She landed an endorsement with CoverGirl. She was being sent movie scripts. None moved her until she read the one for “Moonlight.”
Yesi Ramirez, the casting director on the movie, had flagged Monáe for the director Barry Jenkins, and they scheduled a screen test over Skype. When she appeared, her hair filled the frame, even more than her face. He was startled. “I wanted to call her Auntie. I was used to the pompadour, and this larger-than-life entity, the outer-space person that I’d seen live in Oakland with Erykah Badu, and I had to reconcile that person with this person before me,” he said. “We started talking, and it was very clear that she got it.”
During the beginning of production, Monáe lost a relative to gun violence. Jenkins felt that the story of Chiron, the boy whose life the movie follows as he matures, spoke to her because she knew young men like him, lost and struggling to make sense of their sexuality — and understood the way strangers can raise you as much as your biological family can. “She felt it was important that someone like that be centered in a narrative,” Jenkins told me. “And whatever she could do to bring it to larger light, she was down for.”
For Monáe, “Moonlight” and then “Hidden Figures” were a way to convey the message she has striven over and over to convey: recognition and validation for people overlooked by society. “I was, like, this is just another way to get out the message I’ve been trying to talk about for so [expletive] long that I feel like I don’t know if anybody is listening,” she told me. “You can show people better than you can tell them.”
Rain is Kryptonite to social outings in L.A., but bad weather could not touch the mood in the room at Catch LA in early March. There were a few men — Jay Ellis from “Insecure,” as well as Monáe’s team of male collaborators — but women were everywhere: Ava DuVernay, Rosario Dawson, the director Dee Rees accompanied by her partner, Sarah Broom, Debra Lee, the president of the BET network. The actresses Danai Gurira and Lupita Nyong’o arrived together. Geena Davis watched the scene approvingly from a nearby table. The former editor of Teen Vogue, Elaine Welteroth, held court at another. The New York DJ Kitty Cash played songs, mostly by female artists. Tessa Thompson bounced around in a gorgeous yellow-and-pink feathery coat and leather pants, occasionally at Monáe’s side. The women had gathered for a brunch that Monáe was hosting for her “Fem the Future” project to support women in the entertainment industry. Monáe had chosen three female filmmakers to make short films funded by Belvedere vodka that answered the question: What does a beautiful future look like? The event was nominally to celebrate them but more largely to gather in one room actors, writers, directors and producers Monáe admired.
Monáe, dressed in a Bella Freud ice-blue velvet suit, matching glitter eyeliner and perfectly matte red lips, walked to the front of the restaurant and picked up a microphone. “This room looks good,” she said. “You inspire me and encourage me to be a better woman and artist.” Earlier in her career, she said, she asked some label reps to recommend other female producers and creators she could work with. The list they provided stunned her. “It was so tiny,” she said. “I was upset.” To channel that anger, she said, she started her initiative to help women “cross-connect and open doors,” as she put it. “It gives everybody a seat at the table.”
Throughout my conversations with Monáe, she talked about her dedication to lifting up women. Some of that didn’t quite square with me — most of the crew that supports her creatively, spiritually, administratively seem to be men. But Monáe’s event felt like a mild insistence that she got it. This brunch seemed like a woman-centric version of a few rounds on the golf course — a space that emphasized the importance of networking, beyond film sets, parties and premieres as a means to lay the groundwork for future collaborations. Seeing her in that capacity reminded me that she’s still evolving into the woman she wants to be in the world and the role she wants to play.
AdvertisementContinue reading the main story
A few years ago, the singer and actor Harry Belafonte was asked by a reporter for The Hollywood Reporter to comment on “members of minorities in Hollywood today.” Belafonte, a prominent civil rights activist who helped organized the 1963 March on Washington where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, took the opportunity to express frustration about what he perceived as the political malaise of celebrities. “I think one of the great abuses of this modern time is that we should have had such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities,” he said, “but they have turned their back on social responsibility.” Until recently, few publicly stepped in to fill the hole he named. In the past, Monáe shied away from anything that could potentially derail her career. “I used to be a lot more afraid of going off script,” she told me.
She emerged as an activist in August 2015, at a demonstration in Philadelphia she led in support of the local Black Lives Matter movement. There’s a photo of Monáe surrounded by most of the artists in the Wondaland collective: Jidenna, St. Beauty, Roman GianArthur, Chuck Lightning and the producer Nana Kwabena. Their mouths are open, midchant, and the look on their faces is determined. They are holding drums, signs, one another. For Monáe, the times were too urgent to ignore. Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland had recently died following controversial encounters with the police. She realized she had a voice that she could use. That she needed to use. A few days later, Monáe released the anthem “Hell You Talmbout,” which is less a song than a chant. At nearly seven minutes long, it calls out the names of black men and women who were victims of police brutality, followed by the urging to say their names. It was a significant moment in her career: She would no longer be cautious when it came to social responsibility. The song came out almost a year before Beyoncé’s breaking-chains “Freedom” or Solange Knowles’s primal scream on “A Seat at the Table.” A few months later, Ava DuVernay and Ryan Coogler gave a benefit concert in Flint, Mich., to raise money for the clean-water-deprived city that was also a boycott of the Oscars. Monáe performed alongside Stevie Wonder, Vic Mensa and Hannibal Buress. Monaé told me that in the past, she tended to write anthems for other people. “I don’t always live them, I don’t. And I’m learning more and more to live them, to make myself live them.”
Her highest-profile moment came with the 2017 presidential inauguration. Monáe was invited to speak — as well as sing — at the Women’s March by Ginny Suss, a member of the organizing committee in charge of music. Suss wanted artists whose music reflected their personal politic. “When you look at the arc of her career, there has always been a moral core and ethical center to her music, that breaks down constructions of race and gender in our society,” Suss told me. “It’s a tool to imagine the world we want through the accessibility of pop music. Having her stand up and have that voice at the march was amazing.”
Monáe had heard that Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis; Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin; and Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, were going to be there, too, and she wanted to offer support. She herself was still reeling from the election, she added. “I just wanted to come and not only uplift, but I wanted to be uplifted, too.” As she made her way backstage, she got a sense of the crowd for the first time. “I saw, like, tens of thousands — hundreds of thousands of women and men and people from all around the world, babies and Muslims and trans and L.G.B.T. folks,” she recalled. “I was like, Oh, my God.” She hadn’t expected such a tremendous turnout, for so many people to care about what happens to women. The importance of the task hit her. But there was no privacy backstage, no place to prepare or gather her thoughts — just a communal room where the speakers were chatting and taking photographs. Monáe had no choice but to wing it. “That was just one of those moments where I was just, like, It might not come out right, but as long as your intentions are pure, as long as you’re honest,” she told me. She drew from the mixture of emotions stirred up by her recent role in “Hidden Figures,” about female African-American mathematicians suffering from discrimination even as they performed pivotal jobs for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration during the American space race of the 1960s. “Everything that was going on in January felt like that era, when we’re talking about a blatant war on women’s rights.”
She appeared calm as she addressed the enormous crowd. “Women will be hidden no more,” she said. “We have names. We are complete human beings.” For many people, the speech cast Monáe in a new light: she became more than a psychedelic Tim Burton character. The response galvanized her. “I just had to speak from my heart,” she said. “Not a lot of artists do it.”
This January, she took the stage at the Grammys, where she delivered a short speech to introduce the singer Kesha, who’d had a legal battle with her former producer Dr. Luke. A member of TimesUp, a Hollywood initiative to fight sexual harassment, Monáe wore its pin proudly on her black suit as she called out the music industry for its epidemic patterns of sexual harassment and assault. “We come in peace, but we mean business,” she said to the crowd. “Just as we have the power to shape culture, we also have the power to undo the culture that does not serve us well.”
In Atlanta, after our conversation at Wondaland, Monáe seemed to get a second wind. The band upstairs had resumed practicing for her forthcoming tour, and she wanted to check in on their progress. She invited me to join her. If the basement was where ideas began to gestate, then the room she led me to was where they were polished before leaving the house. It had a ballet barre and floor-to-ceiling mirrors. She disappeared for a few minutes before returning in black leggings and the same cropped moto jacket from the presentation in Los Angeles.
Monáe greeted everyone in her band — the drummer, keyboard player, guitarist and two backup singers — hugging them and taking a few moments to inquire about their health, their families, their side projects, before taking her position in front of them. She patted her pockets, searching for a missing item, which she spied on a speaker: mirrored sunglasses. She put them on and nodded to the band. They launched into “Make Me Feel” and then “I Got the Juice,” and she ran through them a few times, losing herself a little more in the music during each performance.
Despite the accolades and Grammy nominations, Monáe has yet to achieve significant commercial success. If there’s a moment that her entire discography has been building toward, it is right now, with this release. Her desire for a win shone nakedly. She sneaked coy peeks at me to see if I was paying attention. It was impossible to tear my eyes away, not to want for her what she so clearly wants for herself. At the completion of each song, Monáe would grin, breathless. “That’s going to sound so good live,” she said, happily. But then the perfectionist came out again. She asked the band what else they had prepared. The sheepish answer came: Nothing. She paused, letting her displeasure seep out for few moments, just enough for them to know that they’d need to step it up. “Well, all right, then,” she replied. “Let’s go through them again.”
AdvertisementContinue reading the main story
In all our encounters, Monáe seemed as if she was bracing herself for anything, including the worst — harsh reviews, irrelevancy, dismissals. But all that carefully maintained composure fell away as she twirled and dropped to her knees. Earlier, I asked her what she ultimately wanted: awards? Album sales? Money? She referred to Prince again: He was in that “free [expletive] category,” she said. “That’s where I want to be. That’s where I want to ultimately be.”
Source : https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/19/magazine/how-janelle-monae-found-her-voice.html